*Editors Note: Guest post by Jon Parisi, Sales leader who transitioned from exceeding quota in direct Enterprise software sales to build a sales development program from scratch at GuideSpark. This blog post is based on the Sales Development program at GuideSpark and the SlideDeck is viewable below.
When I was an AE I would ask prospects to describe their annual performance review and to understand how they knew whether it was considered a “good year”. The answers helped me understand how they defined success in their role and whether my company could help them get there. As we head into the end of the year, I’m asking myself this very question and I’d like to share my answers here.
I define success as our ability to attract top talent, and quickly onboard and develop them so that the majority of them can become quota bearing reps.
Over the past 12 months my company experienced tremendous growth. By the end of 2013 we tripled our revenue mainly through our outbound sales engine. As a result, the leadership team doubled down on sales to support hefty 2014 targets. And our young and talented team of Revenue Development Reps (RDRs) grew from 4 to 25 almost overnight.
During this journey, our team did roughly 100 phone screens, 60 interviews and hired close to 30 new RDRs. Talk about building the runway as the plane is taking off! And as many of you know, by the time they begin to mature in their roles and excel at them, they’re promoted into new roles. And that’s the purpose of this blog post. How to hire in a fast paced environment and build the next generation of sales reps.
In the first 3 quarters of this year our team grew by 3X and we saw between 5X and 25X growth in our core metrics. That is to say, on a per rep basis we scaled very efficiently. But it wasn’t easy and we’re not done yet. Here are a few of the many issues we have encountered:
- Explosive growth leads to hiring pressures.
- There is a continuous need to replace top talent with even better talent (and it has to happen at light speed).
- Resource allocation on the fly is very difficult.
- Employing a young workforce brings its own set of challenges (focus, resiliency and consistency, to name a few).
Our CEO is a big believer in placing people into difficult situations to see how they respond and that is exactly what we do in our RDR program. We don’t have the luxury of a structured onboarding program with classroom training and ramp periods. We’re defining a new market and extra time is not something we have. So that is why we depend on all new hires to contribute immediately.
So what happens when someone joins our team?
Smile and Dial
The easiest part of the job, believe it or not, is to pick up the phone. We get reps on the phone as quickly as possible on day 1. Our ramp tends to be a function of the number of phone calls they make. I’m a big believer in getting to 3,000 phone calls – by that time they will have developed familiarity with the role, pitch, objections, story-telling and so forth. So it’s a race to 3,000 dials.
Meetings Booked – getting to the launch point
Every rep has a different launch point on their ability to book meetings. Some get it right away, while others can take time. “In-the-moment” and regular coaching is paramount – and everyone contributes, from our VPs to our sales interns – both in our sales pit and through formal one- on-ones. We talk about what’s working and what isn’t. Much of the time is spent getting our hands dirty together, ”jumping into the foxhole”, so to speak. But alas, meetings only get you part of the way there.
Opportunities generated – most difficult to achieve yet the most important
Our meeting-to-opportunity conversion happens at the sole discretion of our sales reps. They are tough graders and, as a result, we find that our pipeline quality tends to improve over time. But it’s not easy for new reps to generate quality “opps” out of the gate. Usually it takes a full 3 months in the role to start moving up the opportunity creation ramp. A main challenge we have in hiring is to lower this ramp time as quickly as possible – especially given that top producers will quickly move on to other roles in the organization.
When we finally achieve the desired output we want from an RDR, it’s only a matter of time before they are promoted into the field. We find ourselves frequently “back to square 1”, recruiting and “onboarding”. Any slowdown in hiring is detrimental. Thankfully we have an executive team that allows us to pull forward hiring plans in the absence of official requisitions. Our philosophy on hiring is to shorten the candidate “sales cycle” as quickly as we can and make offers within hours of final interviews.
What is our approach to hiring and training?
So, the decision gets made – 2 top performers are promoted – now what? First of all, don’t panic – it’s great for the organization. But you do need to move even more quickly than before and you should never compromise on your bar for talent – always keep it high. We like to keep a steady pipeline of talent handy and, if possible, will have 4 or 5 candidates circulating at any time. Things move quickly, and our recruiting company plays a paramount role in the process. Happily, we’re also starting to gain some recognition in the marketplace and candidates are coming to us directly.
In terms of what we look for, we tend to hire for attitude and coach for aptitude. We take calculated risks on people. They’re not all A’s and B’s on day 1, but being hands-on and maintaining a laser-like focus on execution is critical.
Slide 10 of my presentation illustrates us having to replace two top performers in a few months. When our top rep was promoted, we hired two additional RDRs – one quickly surpassed the production of the promoted rep while the other took some time to find his stride. The fast learner was promoted around the time the slower rep started delivering some big results. Now it’s only a matter of time before this second rep earns a promotion. We’re victims of our own success and on it on it goes. So our bench better be deep and it better be strong!
Trends vs Blips
On slide #11, you see two reps that look relatively similar as far as meetings and opps generated. When you look closer you find that they are completely different in their abilities to drive closable deals, or at least in the pipeline quality that they generate. Is it more important to coach the stronger rep to become even better? Or do you spend your time with the other rep to completely overhaul their approach? The answer is that you need to do both, but the most critical is that you focus on the latter.
As a data-driven organization, we have been able to identify trends as they are developing and to change direction on the fly, very quickly. While this data rigor and quick response has been a key ingredient to our success, it’s also important to know when to back off of the data It’s a hard thing to do and I’m not sure that we’ve mastered it yet but if you take a look at the appendix, you’ll see what happened to a rep who got off to a fast start, had a next quarter letdown, and got right back on track. This person just needed some time to sort out his approach.
- Move quickly and never stop recruiting.
- Keep the bar high, but don’t be afraid to take calculated risks on candidates.
- Leverage the entire team to support the hiring and developing new hires.
- Be open to surprises (young talent continues to surprise when given the opportunity).
- Expect a lot of changes if you’re “doing it right” (i.e. promoting people into new roles)
- Engage the team in helping to flatten bumps along the way.
- Spot trends early. Monitor red flags closely. And make changes decisively. (These 3 work hand-in-hand)
- Soak up all the learning along the way.
- Get used to it – nobody said it would be easy.
- And last but not least: Have fun. Building a successful team is a rewarding experience.
2014 will close out a very good year for our RDR team – we learned a lot about the demands of sustaining high growth sales momentum. We’ll apply those learnings to 2015 – we have even loftier goals next year 😉